Flames from the Tenaja Fire rise up behind a subdivision in Murrieta. Courtesy OnScene.TV

A wildfire possibly ignited by lightning just west of Murrieta was holding at just under 2,000 acres Thursday night, with hundreds of homes evacuated and two properties damaged.

The non-injury “Tenaja” blaze was reported about 3:55 p.m. Wednesday in the area of Clinton Keith and Tenaja roads, in the unincorporated community of La Cresta, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

“There’s difficult terrain to access the fire,” Cal Fire Division Chief Todd Hopkins said during a news briefing in Murrieta.

“In this area, there’s also something called the ‘Elsinore Effect,’ where the winds come in one direction in the morning and then turn 180 degrees in the afternoon, causing the fire to run downhill, back into neighborhoods. We expect the same weather pattern Friday.”

Hopkins said the blaze was 10% contained, and about 800 firefighters from Riverside County, Cal Fire, Murrieta Fire & Rescue, the Hemet Fire Department, Corona Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service were battling the fire.

Two homes sustained minor damage, according to Hopkins.

“Crews have been doing an excellent job getting into difficult areas and stopping the flames before they damage structures,” Hopkins said.

Murrieta Police Chief Sean Hadden said 570 properties had been evacuated, though some of those residents had decided to return since Wednesday night.

“I understand residents want to get back into their homes, but it’s a dangerous situation,” Hadden said.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, officials estimated the fire would be fully contained by Tuesday.

All residents on Belcara Place, Botanica Place, Lone Oak Way, Montanya Place, The Trails Circle and Copper Canyon North and South, between Clinton Keith Road and Murrieta Creek Drive, were under mandatory evacuation orders, while areas of Bear Creek were under a voluntary evacuation warning. The Santa Rosa Plateau Visitor Center was closed Wednesday.

A care and reception center was available for displaced residents at Murrieta Mesa High School. Small animals were being accepted at that location, while larger animals, including horses, were being accepted at the county’s San Jacinto Animal Campus on Grand Avenue.

Parking for horse trailers was available at Los Alamos Hills Sports Park on Ruth Ellen Way in Murrieta, and people with recreation vehicles or motorhomes were invited to utilize free space and hookups at the Lake Skinner Recreation Area on Warren Road.

Clinton Keith Road was closed from Chantory Street to Avenida La Cresta, and Tenaja Road was shut down between Via Volcano and Clinton Keith Road for public safety and to give crews freedom to maneuver. The road closure at Los Gatos Road and Via Volcano reopened around 7 p.m.

Eighty-seven engine crews and a dozen hand crews were fighting the fire, aided by six Cal Fire air tankers and several water-dropping helicopters, most of which were returning to their bases as darkness approached.

About 10 p.m. Wednesday, the Murrieta Valley Unified School District announced all of its schools would be closed Thursday out of “consideration for the safety and well-being of our students, staff and their families.”

Schools were scheduled to remain closed Friday.

A thunderstorm cell moved through the area just prior to the fire, and it’s suspected that a lightning strike ignited it.

Power lines were reported down at the location.

Southern California Edison was coordinating with the fire department to determine whether transmission lines throughout La Cresta should be shut down as a safety precaution, a process known as “de-energization.”

The county Department of Public Health issued an air quality advisory, warning residents north and east of the Tenaja blaze that fire debris could have negative health impacts.

“Ash and smoke can be hard on anyone to breathe, but especially those with lung disease,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s public health officer. “Everyone worries about the flames, but smoke can impact you even if you’re miles away from the fire.”

Kaiser recommended young children and those in sensitive health stay indoors and run air conditioners — with unobstructed filters — to minimize the effects of smoke and ash.

Updated at 11:15 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 5

— City News Service

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.